Cameras not allowed in Alabama wildlife refuge affected by oil spill (video)

The latest video from the BP oil disaster by Hurricane Creekkeeper John Wathen of Alabama shows the difficulties reporters and others face in trying to document the effects of the catastrophe.

Footage posted to YouTube today finds Wathen at the entrance to the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge in coastal Alabama speaking to one of the state troopers guarding the entrance.

"Excuse me, sir, is there a rule against cameras down there?" Wathen asks. "Some guy came out and told me I couldn't be down there taking pictures."

"The media's not allowed to go down," the trooper answers. "As far as cameras and things down there, I don't think they're allowed."

The incident comes amid mounting concerns over efforts to limit documentation of the ongoing oil disaster.

Late last month, the Coast Guard established 65-foot safety zones around protective boom and vessels actively responding to the spill in Southeast Louisiana. The policy was reportedly a reaction to instances where boom was vandalized or broken by non-response vessels getting too close.

The Coast Guard initially established a safety zone of more than 300 feet but later reduced the distance. In order to get closer than 65 feet, media must get special permission from the Coast Guard captain of the Port of New Orleans.

Violating the safety zone can result in felony charges and up to a $40,000 civil penalty. However, a spokesperson for the BP Deepwater Horizon Response insisted the distance was "insignificant" for gathering images.

"In fact, these zones, which do not target the press, can and have been opened for reporters as required," Megan Moloney said.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune has reported that the rule could make it difficult to photograph and document the impacts of oil on land and wildlife.

In response to mounting concerns over barriers to press coverage of the oil disaster, AFTRA -- the union of broadcast journalists -- has begun collecting stories of access denied:
Since last month, stories of the press being denied access by BP and its contractors, local law enforcement and the U.S. military have emerged sporadically in local and national press reports and in the blogosphere. Frequently, journalists and photographers are being provided access as embeds on government or corporate flights, rather than being given unfettered access to sources and locations. Denial of access to people and public spaces and filtering the story through a government or corporate lens is censorship.

Censorship is anathema to democracy, and the only way to stop it is to expose it.
In the meantime, watch Wathen's video here:


(Photo by Los Cardinalos from Flickr.)